Sung individually, the sound is barely audible; sung by thousands of voices, the sound is rich and harmonious. This is the story of the secret prayer life of North Korean Christians.
The window is shut with a bang and the curtains are hastily closed. The three believers shuffle silently across the small living room, avoiding the piercing stare of the “great leaders” whose portraits hang on the wall. Straining to hear if someone is outside on the street, they enter the bedroom, kneel, and softly begin singing. The words well up from deep within their hearts, a prayer so soft it is scarcely a whisper—“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”
Fear reigns in North Korea. A car is heard in the night. A family simply disappears. Nobody knows why, but everybody has an explanation. When will it be my turn? Through ceaseless propaganda, the plan is powerfully implemented —make the people believe they are not safe, that they are alone, that nobody really cares about them.
Traveling through North Korea and seeing the faces of the people , a feeling of helplessness creeps over you. It is like being part of an unimaginable drama without the ability to change the script. The actors walk along sheer, endless roads, going from nothing to nowhere. Some wash their clothes in rivers; others search along the bank for the best edible plants and grass. Trees stripped bare are silent witnesses to the bark porridge many eat just to fill their stomachs.
But hidden among the faceless throng are God’s children, praying as they walk the long roads. “Prayer in North Korea is a matter of life and death,” says an Open Doors contact who works with North Korean refugees in China. “If North Koreans come to faith in China, the most important thing we teach them is how to build a relationship with God. When they return to their country they cannot take a Bible along. Almost half of all refugees who return are arrested at some point during the journey. In every situation they need to trust in the Lord. We teach them to pray for everything, especially for discernment. Who can you trust? What do you say, and what do you not say?”
In their prayers, North Korean Christians try to discover God’s will and ask forgiveness for the times they were not faithful. An Open Doors’ courier who witnessed a secret prayer meeting several years ago says, “The Christians kneeled and asked God for the forgiveness of their ancestors, who bowed to the Japanese idols. They prayed, ‘The people of Israel were disobedient and had to wander in the desert for forty years, but we are being punished for over sixty years.’ They begged for God to change their situation. They asked Him to reopen the churches of their forefathers.”
In recent years, however, North Korean Christian prayers have changed; thanks largely to the prayers of foreign brothers and sisters, they now know they are not alone. North Korean church leaders say, “We are so encouraged by these prayers that we now pray the prayer of Queen Esther. She was called ‘for a time like this,’ as Mordecai told her. That applies to us too. We are called to spread His light in a time like this and under these difficult circumstances. We experience that God uses persecution to sanctify His Church and are grateful that we in our weakness receive His strength. We pray that we are able to do His will in every situation. And if we perish, we perish.”
North Korean Christians have started their own intensive prayer campaign, calling on God to continue to open doors for the Gospel to be spread further. “God gave us a vision,” say underground church leaders. “One day our country will be opened and be reunited with South Korea. Then the North Korean and South Korean Church will work together with our Chinese brothers and sisters to evangelize in Asia. We see the current persecution in North Korea as preparation for that time.”
The thousands of North Korean Christian voices are barely audible individually, but together they swell into a magnificent song rising before the throne of God. We know from the Book of Revelation that every word spoken to Him is kept in a golden bowl, whether it is spoken aloud at a dining table in the free world or whispered behind a closed window somewhere in North Korea.
Father, together with North Korean Christians we pray longing for that day when Christians in North and South Korea, along with brothers in China, will freely proclaim Christ throughout Asia, bringing about a revival in that vast land. Thank You for the prayers of Your children in North Korea who, even in their bleak and otherwise hopeless existence, are united in praying that You will reopen the churches of their ancestors and release a mighty outpouring of Your Spirit in their nation. Continue to strengthen and encourage them in the midst of their current persecution. In the name of Jesus who is mighty in power to accomplish His will, Amen.